He’s determined to uncover the truth behind a decades-old disappearance—even if it kills him
When hotshot reporter Max Malone gets a rare shot of Buckmaster Hamilton with a blonde woman near Beartooth, Montana, he chases down one of the senator’s daughters to verify that the woman is his supposedly long-dead first wife. But Kat Hamilton won’t give him the time of day, let alone any information about her mother.
With his tousled blond hair, sexy stubble and an old straw cowboy hat topping off his long, lean frame, Kat can just tell Max isn’t used to female sources denying him anything. But when her own life is put in jeopardy, it’s Max who comes to her rescue. Seems someone is prepared to kill to keep the past in the past. Kat can’t deny she needs Max to find out what happened to her mother, but will getting closer and closer to each other lead them to the truth…or to danger?
Max Malone scratched his shaggy sandy-blond hair and squinted at the sunrise that cast the awe-inspiring Crazy Mountains in a pale pink glow. He’d camped just outside the Hamilton Ranch, sleeping in the back of his pickup and hoping it wouldn’t rain.
He needed a haircut and he also had a couple days’ growth of beard. All part of the job, he thought as he surveyed the news vans parked outside the Hamilton Ranch gate. There’d been more vans parked here nine months ago when the senator’s first wife had returned from the dead. Now only two vehicles remained, along with a few reporters who drove out some mornings after a hot shower, a latte and a night in a warm bed. Like him, they lived in hope of getting something newsworthy on the days they heard the senator was back from Washington.
Max had met the other reporters and photographers the first day he’d shown up here. They would have looked down their noses at him even if he hadn’t been driving an old pickup and sleeping in the back of it under the camper shell. He was a freelancing investigative journalist, one of a dying breed.
But he had a reputation that preceded him, so he hoped he made them all nervous as they worried about what he was up to. Anyone who had ever read his articles would know that this wasn’t his kind of story.
Which meant he might know something they didn’t.
He smiled to himself. Let them wonder. If he was right… Well, he wasn’t going to let himself go down that trail of thought, not yet. He didn’t want to jinx it.
The only one of the news bunch waiting at the ranch gate who’d given him more than a nod was an old-timer newspaper journalist named Harvey Duncan. It was Harvey he stood with this morning at the fence.
“Is it true there are no photographs of Sarah Hamilton except for her high school yearbook and her driver’s license mug shot from years ago?” Max asked about the senator’s first wife, Sarah Johnson Hamilton.
“Rumor is the new wife disposed of all the photos, photos of Sarah, including the wedding photos,” Harvey said and took a gulp of his coffee from a cup that said Big Timber Java on the side.
Just the smell of the coffee was almost enough to send Max hightailing it into town. He could go without food for several days. But coffee, that was a whole other matter.
“Surely someone’s seen her and gotten a recent shot, at least a candid one,” he said as if merely passing time.
Harvey shook his head. “No one knows where she is. She couldn’t move back in here at the ranch after her unexpected return from the dead, not and live with the senator and his current wife. And after the story came out about her…memory loss…” He pulled a face.
No one believed anyone could forget twenty-two years of her life. “I heard all six daughters have scattered to the wind, as well,” Max said.
“So it seems.” Harvey took another drink. “Abandoned the ranch as if it was a sinking ship.”
Hamilton Ranch was far from a sinking ship. Just as Senator Buckmaster Hamilton’s bid for the presidency was a far cry from the disaster everyone had predicted when his dead wife had shown up. He was a front-runner in the polls, and the gracious way he’d handled his first wife’s return had only garnered him more popularity.
“I’ve been struggling to get a bead on Sarah Hamilton. No one seems to know anything about her,” Max said. “With a maiden name like Johnson and a married name like Hamilton, it makes it hard to get much background, other than what is already known about her. Not that she was probably using either name in the past twenty-two years. That is, if she was trying to hide and really didn’t lose her memory.”
Harvey chuckled. If he knew anything, he wasn’t giving it up. Max had used all of his resources and had come up empty, but apparently so had everyone else. Not that anyone in the world would care about the woman if she hadn’t been married to the future president of the United States—if you could believe the polls and he didn’t do anything to screw up before election day.
Still, Max was fascinated by the woman and more than a little curious about what she might be up to. Sarah Johnson had come from a two-parent, affluent home with a squeaky-clean past. She’d been the golden girl, high school cheerleader, valedictorian and had apparently glided through college without making a ripple, coming out with a bachelor of arts degree in literature. She’d married well, had six children and then one winter night, for some unknown reason, she’d driven her car into the Yellowstone River. Her body was never found. Because there were no skid marks on the highway, it had looked like a suicide. Foul play had never been suspected.
That was twenty-two years ago. Now she was back—with no memory of those years or why she’d apparently tried to take her own life.
Max wanted this story more than he wanted a hot cup of coffee this morning. Even better would be a current photograph. Right now a photo of the back-from-the-grave Sarah Hamilton would be worth…hell, he could name his price.
At movement down at the ranch house, the reporters and photographers in the vans hopped out and got ready. Word was that the senator had flown in last night for a short visit. He’d been gone for months and only returned for quick visits between his job and his campaigning. Unlike some of the others, who hadn’t declared their candidacy yet, Hamilton had jumped into the ring early.
“I think I’m going into town for coffee,” Max announced, even though that wasn’t his plan at all as he walked back to his pickup. While the senator often came and went from the ranch with his current wife, this morning Buckmaster Hamilton was alone as he drove toward the gate.
Max crossed his fingers as he started his pickup. Maybe luck would be with him. He’d tried to follow the man before but had lost him. Buckmaster was a Montana rancher at heart. Being a senator hadn’t changed that. Nor had money. He didn’t own a private jet, he didn’t have a large staff while at the ranch and he certainly didn’t have a driver. On top of that, the man drove like a bat out of hell and had the luxury of knowing the roads. If that didn’t make it difficult enough to follow him, add the dust that boiled up behind the senator’s SUV. Because of that Max hadn’t seen where the man had disappeared to during his other attempts to follow him.
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